[my original plan to do a series of posts on superhero subjects (specifically Ant-Man, Jessica Jones, Mystery Men 1E, "street level supers," and Bat Girl) will probably have to wait till next week, and perhaps even till the New Year due to holiday responsibilities and our upcoming trip to Mexico to see the in-laws. Likewise, yet another recent shaming at the G+ hands of Heron means I want to devote at least some time to Cry Dark Future...so there's that, too. We'll get to the supers eventually]
SO...5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Events conspired to prevent me from really taking a good, hard look at it when I was back in Seattle...almost as if God or the Universe was trying to tell me something. However, I was strongly considering picking up a copy to take back to Paraguay. Yeah, I know, right? But...well, anyway, if it wasn't for the young woman working the counter at Greenlake Games (very nice, very competent, completely failed to get her name), I wouldn't have even been able to peruse the new PHB. As it is, I was able to thumb through a copy (and the DMG and the MM) and...I was thoroughly unimpressed. I mean, I was the opposite of "impressed" (is there a word for that?). So I didn't buy it...though I did pick up a new set of dice to bring down to Paraguay.
[apologies. Due to very sporadic internet access...storms and infrastructure issues...this post is taking a couple days to write]
So I decided to stop worrying about 5E or "keeping my hand in" with the latest-greatest (which is the reason I had considered purchasing it in the first place). And then I read this review of Lost Mine of Phandelver over at Dungeon of Signs. And it piqued my curiosity enough to take a closer examination of the rule set. Which, in Paraguay, means finding illegal PDFs on Asian web sites (since there's no legal PDFs available, nor game outlets closer than Brazil).
So now I've delved 5E a bit and I have a real opinion. The opinion is: 5E is dumb.
I'm sure no one is shocked to hear negative things about 5E from this blog. I've been critical of the whole concept since it was in it's "D&D Next" mass-playtesting phase. And I'm pretty sure that anything I say on the matter won't change others' opinions, especially the folks playing and enjoying the game. So why should I even bother ranting about it? Why take the time to formulate a blog post (even a stream of consciousness, off-the-cuff one) that's nothing more than an attempted punch-in-the-nose that won't have any goddamn impact? Because I'm bored? Because I'm a "big ball of anger?" Because I have some sort of past-life beef with Mike Mearls?
I don't know. I'm a blogger: I blog. You'll see I've got close to a couple thousand posts spread over six years. The way I keep it up, in the midst of a hectic life, is by writing about things that grab me and get my "juices flowing." The stupidity inherent in 5E does that so, well, I'm just going to go with the flow...as per usual.
BY THE WAY...I'm only using the words "dumb" and "stupid" because I can't think of better words to use; that may be a product of fatigue. I really don't have the words I need. Maybe insipid would be better? Actually "lame" is the word that keeps popping into my head. My google gives the following definition, which I think kind of articulates my feelings:
And lists a number of synonyms (weak, thin, flimsy, poor, sorry) which are pretty good, too. "Feeble," by the way, is defined both as lacking strength and lacking strength of character. Which, I'm going to guess, most folks who like 5E are going to strongly disagree with. This is a robust system! It's customizable to taste! A good DM can do a lot with this! Etc., etc.
Okay, folks. You got me. It's really awesome and I'm just a crusty old man. Please allow me my crusty old man moment.
When I was a kid in middle school, I often acted as a DM for my younger brother and his best friend, Brandon. We played a lot of games, not just D&D, but D&D was certainly a favorite, and Brandon really enjoyed the hell out of it, even after the game had lost a bit of its luster for me (in high school). Brandon never owned a book, never learned to run a game, and stopped gaming altogether once he and AB started attending different high schools and, thus, didn't see much of each other (I was also running a lot less). Fast forward to now. Brandon is a successful lawyer, working for his father's small practice. In many ways, he's turning into his father: a little heavier and out-of-shape (Brandon was always wiry and a three-sport athlete) with a beard; a good and stable family man with three or four kids (though his are all girls, while his father had all boys). His oldest daughter is 7, very smart, and a big reader and lover of fantasy, and Brandon thought she would really enjoy Dungeons & Dragons, the same way he did as a kid, 25 years ago. So, knowing nothing about various changes over the last couple decades, he went down to the local game shop to pick up the books for her to read and learn how to play/run the game.
|In the running for worst PHB cover, ever.|
[this story, by the way, was related to me by my brother on my most recent trip to Seattle]
I think most people coming to 5E, enjoying 5E, are coming at it from a very different direction than Joe off the street. Fine and dandy, but I'm on Joe's side (and Brandon and his daughter). Hell, I'm on my side, and my priority for D&D play is a lot different from this mash-up of 3E and 4E and BECMI sensibilities with some abstract metamechanics pasted on. I want something different from a game where you'll know you're fighting a druid because they're all using thorn whips after 4th level, where I can only take the death domain for my cleric of Hades with my DM's permission (and need to buy the DMG to do so), where wizards can conjure/summon something other than elementals (just like in World of Warcraft!), where players can read a players handbook that offers them all them handfuls of kewl options as they advance, but no information on how that advancement takes place other than "DM gives you experience points."
'Cause that's, you know, bullshit. The original PHB at least explained the process of acquiring XP, and the justification. Because it's, ya' know, kind of important to know and understand the rules when you're playing a game? Here's what the 5E PHB has to offer:
"As your character goes on adventures and overcomes challenges, he or she gains experience, represented by experience points. A character who reaches a specified experience point total advances in capability. This advancement is called gaining a level."Sure JB (I can hear you say), but it explains right there...you need to overcome challenges to gain XP...just turn to the index and look up "challenge" to see the entry describing what that entails, and then you'll have your answer.
Except there's no such entry.
I'd transcribe the much more clear (and explicit) section of the AD&D Players Handbook (on page 106), but this post is already running long...perhaps in a separate blog post.
This is the kind of thing I call a "gross oversight" but I'm sure there will be folks who'll say I'm being nit-picky. JB, I know what a damn "challenge" is, I played 3rd Edition! Fine, I don't give a shit about you, I'm talking about Joe, remember? To me, it's pretty asinine to structure a rule system this way, especially when the "free basic set" (as I've discussed before) doesn't actually provide any complete system for learning to play the game...one would presume it is this "per pay" version that is supposed to teach new players. Instead, however, you get a bloated page count, with too much padding and too much stupid. The DMG...320 pages...is mainly padding and random frigging tables for stupid shit. Oh, and magic items: roughly one-third of the text is devoted to magic items, precious few of which are new since 1st edition (they even recycled Blackrazor, Wave, and Whelm from White Plume Mountain). Compare that to 20% of the original DMG...in fact, it would probably be a good exercise to do a straight comparison between the 1st edition and 5th edition DMGs to see how they stack up against each other. That'll be another (masochistic) blog entry. My guess is I'll find a lot less info regarding actually running a game of 5E than it's dense, non-user friendly page count warrants.
But that would be indicative of the edition. "Get less with more," should be the motto here. You get 158 monster entries in the first 315 pages of the new Monster Manual compared to over 200 in the original 110 page version. Fortunately, you don't see the same alphabetizing of creatures by their "giant" prefix and whatnot that was in the Basic PDF (well, except in the miscellaneous creatures section)...all the dragons are under the "dragon" entry, for example. Instead, you see other stupid shit, like an invisible stalker entry for a summoned creature when no such summoning spell exists in 5E (I suppose the cleric's planar ally would work? No, that's only for gods and other "cosmic powers," I see. Oh, well...). Or taking the succubus out of the demon section and making it a fiend native to ALL the lower planes (despite outer planes embodying particular alignments (PHB5, page 302)...Hell and Lawful Evil, for example...and creatures of non-corresponding alignments experiencing "a profound sense of dissonance." Why would an outer plane have a native creature of non-corresponding alignment?).
By the way, if you're going to make the entry "Succubus/Incubus" than fucking alphabetize correctly and put the "I" word first. Jackass.
JB! JB! You are being too damn hard on this totally fine edition of D&D! Your complaints are nit-picks! Sure, it's easier to use/play/run if you have a base of knowledge in earlier editions, sure it's not exactly as friendly to the newbie as one might expect...but in the hands of a good DM it can simulate "Old School play" with some cool upgrades! It's easily modified to taste! It's a damn toolbox!
Yeah, well, so is GURPS and I don't play that either. I don't want to build a game. I don't want to fix a game. I want to play a game. I want to be able to recommend a game to people to play. If I walk into Barnes & Nobles looking for "D&D," this is what I get...I know, because I did just that (I just didn't have a chance to peruse it at the time because I was chasing two small children through the store). Over 600 pages of rules (not counting the extra 300+ page "bestiary"). THIS is what Dungeons & Dragons is today, right this instant. THIS is "D&D Now."
It's a good thing they have great marketing and brand recognition, because this would otherwise be a pretty terrible business model. Seriously. If the game was called Fantastic Fantasy and lacked the on-line community that has flourished for years, would anyone be interested in shelling out the cash for this package? Would anyone be enticed to pick up this weighty tome based on its cover? A pair of androgynous adventurers engaged in a ridiculously suicidal fight with a giant opponent? Would that make you consider shelling out the cash to read these 320 pages just to learn (most) of the rules?
My friend Brandon was unwilling to do this...and he even knew the brand. I suppose most proponents of 5E would say neither Brandon, nor his soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter, are the target audience for 5E. That the true audience to whom 5E caters is the same mass of people that took part in the "beta testing" of the game, the demographic who cared enough to provide feedback and voice their opinions, the vocal online community who was already in WotC's back pocket, who had complained about aspects of 4E, who had complained about aspects of 3E, who wanted a fully supported fantasy (tabletop) gaming line all packaged for purchase.
I'm not part of that target audience either.
I didn't mention that when I decided against purchasing 5th Edition, the nice young lady behind the counter was quick to offer me Pathfinder as an alternative. I told her my 3E days were long behind me (what I wanted to say was, "I'd rather set myself on fire." But I didn't). She said Pathfinder had cleaned up a lot of the 3E's problems. When I still refused, she offered me FFG's Edge of the Empire, perhaps angling to figure out what type of nerd she was dealing with. I didn't bother explaining that I write and design my own games, and will probably continue doing so.
After seeing the current state of D&D, I don't see any other alternative.